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Groups and Gifts

Posted 7/13/2014

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  I truly love my support groups, and I have greatly loved many women who have shared these sacred circles over the years. Often women join a group after telling me: "I am not a group person", but quickly appreciate the difference between our connections and those in many other kinds of groups. Of course groups are not right for everyone, and, when they aren't, one of the reasons is often fear. That fear is of hearing of others' troubles, of maybe learning about things to worry about that had never occurred to you, of carrying other's sadness and burdens, and, most of all, of death of another member.

  What is hard to explain and to understand, unless you have been part of a group like ours, is that those inevitable deaths are very sad, but they aren't frightening. In an odd way, they are comforting as we learn from each other, watch one another, bear witness to the struggle and the living and the leaving. Over and over again, very ill women have come to a group session to say "good-bye", and we have wept and laughed and loved together.

  Quick explanation in case you are reading this and considering a group: my groups (and groups facilitated by other people or at other places may be organized differently) are very specific. For women with breast cancer, there are three groups: one for women who are newly diagnosed or going through treatment, one for women who have completed treatment, and one for women with metastatic disease. The comments today are really only relevant to that last group and to my GYN cancer group that holds women at different stages of illness.

  This is a beautiful essay by Susan Gubar about the parting gifts of a beloved woman in her group:

Living With Cancer: Parting Gifts

Being in a cancer support group eventually means losing a friend. On the first day of November,
Leslie informed the six of us that she would not attend our next meeting: “I am so tired and I think all the
tricks and treats are done.”
A private person in her early 60s, Leslie had contacted me a year and a half earlier when she saw a
notice in the local paper about my memoir, about dealing with ovarian cancer treatments. She could not
bear to read it, but might we correspond?
We did. And despite her qualms about support groups, when one started to coalesce she joined and
relished the camaraderie of our twice-a-month lunches. She named us “The Ladies.”
Tiny and soft-spoken, courteous and wry, Leslie had coped with ovarian cancer for 10 years and so
many abdominal surgeries that she used to say, “The doctors should have put in a zipper.” The last
operation had set off a heart attack and therefore there would be no others. Instead, her oncologists
placed her on maintenance drugs. The medications enabled her to travel, and from a trip to Sanibel
Island she brought back delicate angel-wing shells for us.


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